Europa League talking points: Benfica on the goal trail and Uwe Rosler eyes Chelsea revenge
Ageless Belarussian Alexander Hleb set for reunion with former club Arsenal
Benfica’s striking influence
No doubt about the form team going into the Europa League's round of 32. Benfica arrived in Istanbul for the first leg of their tie against Galatasaray fresh from a double-figure walloping of Nacional in the Portuguese Primeira Liga at the weekend. Yes, when veteran striker Jonas, 34, having been on the pitch a mere 17 minutes, slid in his second goal, the scoreline reached 10-0.
All of which suggests Benfica, who have 19 goals from their last three league games, have an excess of firepower. They felt they could afford to leave Jonas, who has just come back from a knee injury, at home for the trip to Turkey, confident that centre-forward Haris Seferovic - nine goals in his last six league outings - and the widely admired 19-year-old Joao Felix will give them plenty of attacking potency.
The hottest goalscoring Benfica property, meanwhile, has his ambitions elsewhere. Luka Jovic is in his second season on loan from the Lisbon club at Eintracht Frankfurt, who are at Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday. Jovic is the Bundesliga’s leading marksman - 14 goals from 19 games - and has five goals already in the Europa League. So Benfica are rather ruing the fact they allowed Eintracht a purchase option of just €7 million (Dh29m) for the 21-year-old Serbian once his two-year loan expires in June. Real Madrid are reported to be keen on the striker, now being valued at close to €50m.
And then there’s Kostas Mitroglou, the much-travelled Greek target man, in whom Benfica still have a sell-on stake, from when they transferred him to Marseille in 2017. Where’s Mitroglou now? Galatasaray, who bought him last month from Marseille, but, mindful that they would be playing Benfica, have not named him in their squad for the Europa League.
Six years ago this week, Uwe Rosler, the former East Germany striker and coach of several Norwegian and English clubs, was preparing for the minnows-versus-giants cup tie of his managerial career. It was a replay in the FA Cup that his Brentford side, then in England’s third tier, had earned against Chelsea - the then holders of the European Cup - thanks to a 2-2 draw at home in which they had led twice, and been ahead as late as the 83rd minute.
So a hint of deja vu for Rosler, as he welcomes Chelsea to Malmo, the Swedish club he has skilfully guided to the knockout phase of the Europa League; a Chelsea who have shipped 10 goals in their last two away games in the Premier League? Rosler hopes so, or at least he hopes to maintain faith a little longer than Brentford did in the FA Cup back in early 2013. They came down to earth quickly at Stamford Bridge after their heroics in the first 90 minutes of the tie, losing the replay 4-0.
Sevilla back in the groove
The last time Sevilla came off second-best in a two-legged Europa League tie was way back in 2011. Since then, they have progressed through no fewer than 20 ties, plus three group stages, unscathed, in putting together their unprecedented run as the competition’s serial winners, champions in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
They were involved in the Champions League knockouts in 2017 and 2018, but, returning to the tournament that has a special place for Sevilla, their appetite for it seems as keen as ever. They are at Lazio as the leading scorers from the group phase, with 18 goals, to which can be added the 17 they racked up in three rounds of pre-qualifying. If they emerge intact from the tricky trip to Rome, it seems logical to put among the favourites the club who call this their favourite competition.
Alex the ageless
A poignant reunion this evening for Alexander Hleb, enigmatic figurehead of Belarus football. Hleb turns 38 in May, and signed a new contract last month with BATE Borisov, who host Arsenal, where he spent four seasons and played the 2006 Champions League final with. The Hleb odyssey includes a Champions League triumph with Barcelona, in 2009, spells in Germany and Turkey, and a European saga that goes all the way back to the last century, when he first represented BATE in the old Uefa Cup.
Updated: February 14, 2019 08:37 AM